romance!!!-novels!!!

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Eagerly awaited books for October 2016
We’ve got a nicely varied lot of tastes here at AAR, as is reflected in our choices of the books we’re most looking forward to reading each month; but sometimes there’s one book that tops the list as being the one most staffers are looking forward to, and in October, that book is undoubtedly by A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas, which kicks off her new series of historical mysteries starting Charlotte Holmes. And as things gear up for the holiday season, you’ll see a couple of seasonal titles on the list, as well as a variety of contemporaries, historicals and mysteries. It’s a great selection, so hold onto your wallets!

Oooooooooh, A Study in Scarlet Women looks good to me too…

BUT

I am all over While the Duke Was Sleeping by Sophie Jordan.

The premise is based on While You Were Sleeping, one of the best romantic comedies ever. 

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Reading this book? Filming this script? DEFCON 1 FANGIRL LEVELS, YA’LL!

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She Whom I Love (Treading the Boards) by Tess Bowery.
She Whom I Love (Treading the Boards) - Kindle edition by Tess Bowery. Romance Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.

She Whom I Love is on sale for $1.99 this week! Indulge yourself with a bisexual regency romance, where a love triangle turns into a poly happily-ever-after. 

Shortlisted twice for this year’s Bisexual Book Awards, for Best Romance and Best Erotic Romance. 

James loves Sarah, but can’t stop thinking about scandalous Meg. Meg loves Sarah too, but James is clever, handsome and rich. Sarah has loved Meg forever, and loves James now, but sooner or later she has to make a choice. Doesn’t she? 

Blue-Eyed Devil ☆☆☆☆☆


His name is Hardy Cates. He’s a self-made millionaire who comes from the wrong side of the tracks. He’s made enemies in the rough-and-tumble ride to the top of Houston’s oil industry. He’s got hot blood in his veins. And vengeance on his mind.

She’s Haven Travis. Despite her family’s money, she refuses to set out on the path they’ve chosen for her. But when Haven marries a man her family disapproves of, her life is set on a new and dangerous course.

Two years have gone by. Now Haven has come home. This time, she is determined to guard her heart. And Hardy Cates, a family enemy, is the last person she needs darkening her door—or setting her soul on fire.

There are some books in life that you don’t actually read. They aren’t just stacks of paper to be perused lackadaisically. Some books need to be consumed over and over again. Each one is different for each person and the reasons differ as well. But there will come a book like that for everyone. My book just happened to be Blue-Eyed Devil. I bought this book new seven years ago and have read it so much and so often that it’s only held together by pure stubbornness. 

Blue-Eyed Devil is a contemporary romance and a stand-alone sequel to Lisa Kleypas’s Sugar Daddy. It is told through the eyes of Haven Travis who is a daughter of an oil tycoon, Churchill Travis. The book starts off with her meeting Hardy Cates in a dark wine cellar and their attraction is instantaneous. He offers a proposition that is innocently romantic, you can’t help but wish they’d run away together. But, alas, Haven is already engaged to Nick and plans to go through with the wedding to him despite objections from her father and vague warnings from her best friend. Of course, the marriage doesn’t go well, to put it mildly. Nick turns out to be a horribly abusive narcissist who’s final act in the marriage is to beat the daylights out of Haven, rape her, and throw her out of the house to wait for him to bring her back in. Haven escapes and returns to Houston two years later, a little older and a lot changed. 

Kleypas provides enough character development and realness to the story that you can’t let go, can’t put it down. Her characters are flawed and imperfect. They make mistakes and poor choices. And as a reader, you are drawn in. The story doesn’t dwell solely on the romance. it doesn’t use it as a crutch to maintain momentum. The plot breezes through the pages and keeps you enthralled, wondering how it will all come together. A look into the lives of previous characters is also given to satisfy the ever-remaining curiosity after a cover is closed.

Yes, it’s a bit of a cliche as contemporary romances go. Forever unsatisfied, gorgeous woman meets rich, sexy bad boy and sparks fly. But it’s told in a way that will make you not care. Hardy Cates is the perfect romance hero and with Haven’s story, he’s the perfect one for her. 

I love this book. I’ve loved it since my first read through. I fell in love with Hardy’s line right at the beginning: “Go tell Nick you’re not feeling well, and come away with me. Right now. There’s a strawberry moon out tonight. We’ll go somewhere and find a soft patch of grass, and share a bottle of champagne. And I’ll drive you to Galveston to watch the sun rise over the bay.”

Blue-Eyed Devil will always get 5 out of 5 stars from me. It’s a book that I will read time and time again. 

Book Triggers: rape, domestic violence

i’m just… so tired of reading posts complaining about problems that only exist because people won’t read romance novels… it is a huge genre there are books about werewolf dukes, there are books about black revolutionary war soldiers, there are books about south asian doms who care about enthusiastic consent, there are books about shape-shifting cowboys who turn into bears, there are books about lady scientists learning how to trust that their boundaries will be respected, there are books about alien barbarian warriors, there are books about genies, there are books about women of color in victorian london, there are books about polyamorous earls, there are fake marriages and marriages of convenience and basically every fanfic trope that people lose it for exists as a book with original characters but some of the same people who complain about how books no longer satisfy them turn a blind eye to a whole genre because it never occurs to them to read a ~bodice-ripper~ when they could read romantic fanfic of a more respectable genre instead

Gay Romance Novels Are Not Queer Romance Novels

I touched on this in a previous post about the way sex is written in gay romance novels, but I would like to expand upon my thoughts here.

Gay romance novels are not very queer, are they?

This isn’t entirely surprising as they aren’t written for queer audiences and so aren’t beholden to to get it right in any significant way. Yet, I think that there is a kind of implicit obligation to get it right when you’re writing about groups of people and when your writing forms the bedrock of many people’s perception of those groups of people. Good writing has at its core a kind of truth, a kind of honesty based in reality that gives the illusion of fiction substance. We are comfortable going off on flights of fancy with the writer because the writer has given us a solid launching ground, a rooting in reality and in how things really are. I don’t expect perfect politics or ideology or narratives that are uncomplicated and tidy. I expect the mess. The mess is where the reality is. The mess is what drives the story forward. The mess keeps things interesting and makes the characters real.

In a romance novel, there is an expectation that when two characters’ eyes meet, there is significance behind that gaze. In a romance novel, we know that the two characters who occupy the most space on the page and in the story are destined to fall into each other’s arms after some amount of trouble put in their way. In romance novels, the sex is always clean and wonderful and mind-blowing and mutually satisfying. At the center of every romance novel is a puzzle that is presented to us already solved. We know how it will end. The joy of the novel is to come to understand how it is that we will arrive at that solution. The success of a novel is not measured in how closely it mimics the laws of reality or the rules of society, but rather how close it brings us to the lives of its characters. I do not appeal to authors for plausibility (though, my tastes do in fact run a bit on the mundane side), and instead I find myself wanting to come closer to the humanity of the people who inhabit a story.

Yet, I cannot help but to be disappointed at how incredibly un-queer gay romance novels about men in love are. To the point of fetishism, straight men are placed at the center of these stories. Straight men whose sexuality is softened and made mutable by a sultry gaze from men who have been feminized to the point of homophobic caricature. And then, following a steamy sexual encounter, these newly sexually fluid men are immediately stamped gay. Suddenly, we’re made privy to their long history of same-sex attraction, their long-delayed self-identification as gay. They were really gay all along, see—the glove has merely been inverted. Consider also that gay men in these novels in no way engage with their sexuality. They exist in a world of benevolent neutrality, as if living in the eye of an enormous gay hurricane. They vacillate between flamboyant pride as a plot device and stoic, self-loathing concealment. There are no nuanced conversations of masculinity, of male privilege, of straight-passing, of the politics of the closet, of trans* men, of non-binary men, of asexual men, and on and on and on. The gay men in gay romance novels have been stripped of the real vocabulary that exists for navigating the world as a queer person. They are functionally and utterly illiterate in their own identity politics.

Gay romance novels have depoliticized gay sex to an impressive degree, but what to make of this in an era where gay sex, queer sex, is political? To say nothing of the sex itself (which I will get to in moment, holy God), the space around gay sex in these novels is a sterile field. It’s all a crisp dichotomy made understandable for outsiders. Tops. Bottoms. Vers. And why is it that the top is always the masculine one (often, recently initiated to the ways of gay sex, tall and bumbling and tan) and the bottom is always the fem (cunning, beautiful but manly, long and lithe and hard like a saber) as if there didn’t exist infinite possibilities between those two? And why are their bodies always hard and strong? Why are their bodies facsimiles of one another, and why is it that they reflect the same masc, white body types that we see on magazines? The queer body is a political entity. The queer body is radical. And yet, in novels about men who certainly might identify as queer if not for the emptying, cleansing effects of the straight gaze that dominates these stories, the queer body has been rendered neuter of its political potential? I see nothing of my sex or my body in these novels. I am too round, too soft, too brown, too heady, too dour to be loved, sexually.

The sex itself has also been rendered apolitical and unqueer. The hair is in all of the right places. The femme is always hairless, lanky, and nubile. He has tender lips. He kisses hungrily and opens himself up to be taken, to be fulfilled. The man, the butch, the lumberjack, pounds into this hairless, nubile entity. Sex between men opens in these writers a potential space for violence, and they eagerly supply it. Line after line of vicious, ugly sex unfolds. Sex in these novels is either penetrative or the lead-up to penetration. A gay romance novel without anal penetration is not considered complete. And I wonder why that is.

Gay men, queer men, engage in sex in a variety of ways. In fact, the difficulty in preparing for anal sex often makes it prohibitive. Or, the actual pain of it makes it unpleasant. Anal sex is not the end-all, be-all of queer sex between men and male-identified bodies. Oral sex is not a cheap, half-hearted way to get someone off. For some gay men, it forms the entirety of their sexual repertoire. Oral sex is more than just “circling my tongue around the ridges of his head” and “swallowed the whole length.” The rush through oral sex in these novels tells me that it holds a different space for these authors than it does for the gay men I know.

But back to anal sex—the very lack of preparation that characters perform for it tells me that these novels are unqueer. Cleaning yourself out, preparing to take another person’s body into yours. The hunger to be fucked. The desire to be close to another person even if you don’t like them or like the sensation of being penetrated. The war that goes on within you right before. That single, terrifying moment right before they take the plunge and enter you. The conflict some men face. How masculinity interacts with anal penetration is complex. And yet it is missing in these novels. The sex in gay romance novels is heterosexual insert sex with a gay varnish, and there’s no getting around it.

And what of romance? What of the love that sits at the center of every romance novel? In gay romance novels, it takes the shape of a pair, their masculinity in careful, tenuous balance. Yet, queer love often does not look like this at all. Queer love is multi-peopled, multi-faceted, shifting, changing, thriving. Queer love, which has always had to exist at the fringes of society, is mutable and quicksilver. It’s impossible to pin down. And yet, gifted with a boundless canvas of possibility, this is where writers go the most conservative. It’s baffling to me that novels about gay men, there isn’t even a whisper of a conversation of different styles of relationships. Instead, the characters often show their fear of how potential outside forces could cheapen the bond they share. “I’m not a player,” they declare. “I only want serious relationships,” another says, as if this were a virtue.

Gay men date. It’s a fact. They date. They test the waters. They find themselves in a variety of different relationships with other queer men at any given time. Yet, this is conspicuously absent in gay romance novels. There is no kissing of the frogs. There is no buffet of beauties to sample. Instead, all other pretenders to the romance throne are often written with derision. In fact, the romantic rivals in gay romance novels tend to be women or men who are written like women. They are written as bubble gum-popping, hair-twirling bimbos, empty of emotion outside of lust and spite. It amazes me that any editor could give a pass to such bad writing, such hateful, sexist writing.

The lack of dating and the compulsory pairing aside, again, this is where the depoliticizing of queer love shines most obviously in gay romance novels. I think that this is the source of shallowness that I feel when I read these novels. That the characters aren’t engaging with their identity and their bodies and what it means for them to engage romantically and sexually with another person. Not every queer person has a Ph.D. in gender and queer studies, but there is a kind of emotional vocabulary available to queer people as they try to work through their relationships. Yet in these novels, it’s all so tidy, it’s all so neat. I love you. You love me. That’s it. No one ever stops to question why it is that you’ve fallen for the masc guy or why the masc guy who is newly gay (not bi or sexually fluid) has fallen for a thinly disguised female substitute character.

It all feels very artificial.

I am not saying that gay romance novels have to be a realistic in order to be good. I don’t think that’s true. What I do think is that if gay romance novels are going to be about gay men, queer men, then they ought to endeavor to render a more genuine portrait of the ways we live and fall in love. There’s more to it than lube and using three fingers to loosen someone up. There are nuances to queer life that you can’t glean from watching gay-for-pay porn on Tumblr—images that themselves are subject to larger social forces.

If you can’t do the work, then perhaps you should change the names and transform your gay romance novel into the heterosexual love story it so desperately wants to be.

Cas is twenty-six and has never been kissed. It’s never been a problem, but now his advisor is saying that his dissertation, a romance novel, is lacking a personal touch and won’t be liked by the board. With one day until it is due Cas is at wits end, but maybe his roommate, Dean, can give him a few pointers. 2.9k [AO3 Link]

“You love me?” Jo asked with wide, open eyes.

Anna nodded back timidly and tried to walk away, but Jo caught her arm before she could make her escape.

“How long? How long, Anna?” she demanded. “How long have you loved me?”

Anna may have been an angel, bright and powerful and able to smite Jo in an instant, but in that moment, the angel looked completely and utterly human. Her eyes were downcast and her lip was perched between her teeth. She looked terrified, which was beyond Jo. How could an angel of the Lord be terrified of a simple human like her?

“Ever since I pulled you from Hell,” she whispered. “When I touched your soul, it was the purest thing I’ve ever felt in my life. From that first caress of your being, I knew that I’d Fall for you, Jo. I just knew.”

“Anna…” Jo trailed off, because what the hell. How could an angel love her, a hunter? It didn’t make any sense, because angels hated hunters. The only reason Jo was topside was because she was a pawn in their games, and even though she thought Anna wasn’t like the others, she still had doubts at times. She thought that Anna was just putting up with her, that Jo’s love for the angel was unrequited.

“I should go,” Anna said as she turned on her heel. Her large, obsidian wings flew out, ready for flight.

Jo felt herself panic as Anna crouched down. She couldn’t let her angel leave, not after a confession like that one.

“No you don’t,” Jo said, reaching forward and turning Anna around. With a fire within her, Jo leaned in and

“Their lips…no. They touch one another with their mouths…no. They…uh…mack on one another for a long time…the end.” Cas pushed his laptop away and ran fingers through his hair, groaning. “This is impossible,” he muttered to himself, and brought his elbows up onto the table.

He’d rewritten the ending scene with Anna and Jo’s kiss a thousand times, but it never worked out. Professor Mills cited a lack of personal touch, and told him to base the kiss on his own experiences. “Add a little raunchiness, will ya?” she said to him with an upturned grin. He nodded and laughed along at the time, but now he was truly panicking. He was never going to finish his dissertation before tomorrow’s board presentation, and it would all be because he’s the only twenty-six year old on the planet who has never been kissed.

It wasn’t like he hadn’t tried before. Back in college, Cas was almost kissed a few times, the closest being when he was playing a drunken game of spin the bottle with his floormates. It landed on a girl named Meg, a feisty business major who was known for her escapades in the bedroom, but when she leaned in and tried to kiss him, he couldn’t do it. When Cas imagined his first kiss, it always was with someone he really cared about, not some girl from Edlund Hall that he barely knew.

“Yeah, wait until you find the perfect person to kiss. That’ll do you a lot of good,” Cas angrily muttered to himself as he pulled his computer back towards him. The cursor blinked back at him mockingly, and Cas carefully began typing.

“With a fire within her, Jo leaned in and grabbed Anna’s face-”

“No, no, no!” Cas cried out as he pounded on the keys. Even if he had no experience, why couldn’t he write this damn scene? Kissing was not rocket science, and he’s read enough romance novels in his life. Why can’t he just write a few lines and get it over with?

“Cas?”

He cringed when Dean’s voice hit his ears. The last thing he needed was his roommate seeing him all up in arms over this, especially since he was the one Cas had been trying to get the courage to kiss for years now. He quickly thought that if he wasn’t such a coward, then maybe he’d be able to not fail out of his dissertation.

“In my bedroom!” Cas called out, and began fruitlessly typing nonsense as Dean’s footsteps ricocheted off the hardwood floors, stopping when he reached Cas’s door.

“You okay?” Dean asked, and Cas turned around to see his friend leaning against the doorframe, lips turned up into a smirk as he toed the ground with his boot.

Perhaps it’s heightened by Cas’s troubles, but Dean looked even more handsome than usual. His jeans were rolled up at the bottom, revealing his ankles, and his white t-shirt was dirtied from his work shift at the garage. Combined with his playful gaze and his hands in his pockets, Cas felt himself blanching.

“Earth to Cas? You there, buddy?” Dean said as nodded in his direction.

Cas blinked owlishly a few times before going back to his laptop. “Yes, I’m sorry. I’m just trying to finish my dissertation.”

Dean walked over to his computer and peered over Cas’s shoulder. He could feel Dean’s breath on his neck, and it took everything in him to not turn his head and close the distance between them. It would be the perfect moment to get experience-

“Wow, this sucks,” Dean snorted, and alas, the moment was broken.

Cas glared up at Dean and pushed away from his desk. “You think it’s crappy? I’m presenting this to the board tomorrow,” Cas reminded him with emphasis. “And you decide to tell me now that it’s crappy?”

Dean held up his hands and backed away into the bed. He plopped down and replied, “Crappy isn’t the right word. It’s just…lacking. Jo grabbed Anna’s face and kissed her until they broke apart tells me nothing,” he said, quoting the last thing Cas wrote down. “I want to read about what the kiss felt like for Jo, you know?”

Cas took a deep breath and took a seat next to Dean. He folded his hands in his lap and glanced out the window, then asked the question that had been on his mind all day. “What does it feel like to be kissed, Dean?”

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